Share this story
Close X
Switch to Desktop Site

Rwandans Speak Of Openness To Reconciliation

Citizens cite manipulation by ousted leaders as significant factor in Hutu-Tutsi conflict

HIGH on the ``wanted'' list of the new Rwandan Tutsi-led government are leaders of the defeated Hutu-dominated Army, accused of carrying out genocide against the Tutsis.

Yet some senior officers of the former Army have returned openly to this capital. They say they did not participate in the killings, even spoke out against them - at some risk from their military colleagues.

About these ads

Their return helps to confirm that the Rwandan conflict is not so cut and dried as Hutus against Tutsis.

Members of both ethnic groups speak of the ``political manipulation'' by political leaders in the defeated government to ignite ethnic rivalries and tensions, which led to genocide.

Some Hutu leaders of the former government still preach hatred of the Tutsis because of their domination for several centuries until Hutus gained political control in 1959.

But society does not necessarily mirror politics here.

Many Hutus opposed the government their ethnic group dominated, a stance for which they died. Tutsi survivors recount how Hutus protected - or tried to protect - them from Hutu militias during the genocidal months of April to July.

Many Tutsis and Hutus tell of former friendships with members of the other ethnic group, intermarriage, and how they worked together in businesses and on farms. One Tutsi survivor after another, all of whom have lost family members, speaks of the need for ``reconciliation.''

Their attitudes, and a history of cooperation between many Hutus and Tutsis, provide a basis for rebuilding a nation, say many people here from both groups.

About these ads

The political lineup in Rwanda before fighting broke out in April was not split neatly along ethnic lines.

Southern Hutus were often opposed to the northern Hutu clique of the late President Juvenal Habyarimana, who was killed when his plane was shot down over Kigali on April 6, sparking the massacres. Some Tutsis held Cabinet posts in the previous Hutu-dominated government.

One of the issues that divide Rwanda is the form of its democratic government, says Patrick Mazimhaka, vice president of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), which now runs Rwanda.

``We have a political movement we are trying to implant in this country,'' Mr. Mazimhaka told the Monitor. ``It's not just an ethnic movement.''

Many Hutus are members of the Tutsi-led RPF, Mazimhaka says. They are ``bona fide'' members of the RPF.

The RPF was almost all Tutsi before 1987. But as the RPF stepped up its organizational efforts inside Rwanda, many Hutus opposed to the Habyarimana government joined, he adds. The new government has appointed eight Hutus to Cabinet positions.

Mazimhaka says returning officers of the defeated Army are free to stay in Rwanda, but if someone makes an accusation against them, they must defend themselves in court.

LEONIDAS RUSATIRA, a general from the defeated Rwandan Army, is a soft-spoken man. He explains that he and some other senior officers returned to Kigali voluntarily from Zaire.

He says he was overwhelmed by the welcome he received from Tutsi soldiers here.

General Rusatira says he is not afraid of being arrested on suspicion of carrying out genocide against the Tutsis, because he did nothing wrong.

Sitting in the Mille Collines Hotel, where hundreds of Tutsis took refuge during the fighting, Rusatira quietly explains why he came home.

``My example can help others'' decide to return, he says. ``What do farmers have to fear if I, a general, am here?''

About 2 million Rwandan refugees have decided not to come home yet. The RPF government is urging them to return, saying that only those who were involved in the massacres will be prosecuted.

``I'm a Hutu from the north, who for a long time has been against the regionalism and ethnicity'' of the former government, Rusatira says. ``I have no remorse. I came back to help with national reconstruction. The country belongs to everyone.''

Rusatira, who headed a military officers' training school in Kigali, describes how he and his officers protected more than 100 Hutu and Tutsi families at his residence.

A week after the killings began on April 6, Rusatira and a small group of other military officers also signed a declaration calling for a halt to the killings and negotiations with the RPF.

In July, with the Army on the run, he and some other officers signed a second declaration near Gikongoro, Rwanda, calling for a halt to the killings and negotiations. Remnants of the Army tried to attack the signers, but the group was rescued by French forces in the area, who took them by helicopter to Bukavu, Zaire.

But they were not safe there. ``We were threatened every day'' by leaders of the former government, some of whom already had fled to Bukavu, Rusatira says.

So he and his family rented cars and drove to Goma, Zaire. To pass through a heavy concentration of exiled Rwandan Army members in Goma, he pulled a hat down over his face, sat between bodyguards, and rode across the border to Gisenye, Rwanda, which by then was under RPF control. An RPF colonel greeted them and lodged them in his temporary quarters. From there they drove to Kigali, arriving in the capital on July 29.

Most of the other eight signers of the second declaration have also returned to Kigali, along with 300 low-ranking soldiers, he says.

``I'm certainly an idealist,'' Rusatira says. But ``many [Rwandans] have the ideal of reconciliation, of reconstruction,'' he adds.

Follow Stories Like This
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.